Meet the Seven Finalists for the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art

The Gibbes Museum of Art and its supporting young professionals organization Society 1858 have announced the short list of contenders for the museum's prize for an outstanding contemporary artist from the South. Over 250 artists submitted work to the Charleston, SC, institution's annual contest.

“We are thrilled to have received so many qualified applicants to the 1858 Prize. Narrowing the list to seven artists was a tough task, but we feel this group represents the great talent and creativity of the contemporary southern art scene,” says Gibbes Museum Curator of Exhibitions Pam Wall.

According to a press release:

This prize was established in 2007 by Elizabeth and Mallory Factor to honor an artist whose work contributes to a new understanding of the South. Artist John Westmark was the 2012 prize winner and his work is on view at the Gibbes Museum of Art through August 3 in the exhibition entitled, John Westmark: Narratives. After a 1-year hiatus, Society 1858 has rebranded the annual artist award and will focus its fundraising efforts on cultivating the prize.

[Read John Westmark: Revolt Against the Double Bind, our feature article on the painter.]

Here are the seven artists chosen. The winner will be announced September 18th and awarded the $10,000 prize.


Yvette & Ansley

Jim Arendt draws on his background watching industry dry up in rural South Carolina. He paints, sculpts, and creates installations and is known for using denim as a medium, using the different shades and washes to portray his subjects, real people he knows. He is a past prizewinner at ArtFields, an annual event that draws thousands of art lovers to the small town of Lake City, SC, where small businesses are turned into galleries for contemporary artists.

"Making is a way for me to echo the cycles of seasonal death, unemployment, natural disasters, and loss I’ve witnessed. The physical labor involved in the creation of these pieces mirrors the work I engaged in with my family. The scale and application of materials evokes in me memories of the time when there was promise for our endeavor.

"Casting the people I know best into the center of my work, I explore how the changing landscape of labor has defined them, not as they were or are, but as I know them to be. Our lives, separated by years and distance, remain entangled around the work we left unfinished.

"I choose materials to work with while seeking to create a greater relevancy between content and form. Denim seems created to be abused, worn out, patched, stained, and burnt through. Its characteristics are mirrored in the individuals I choose to represent. Yet, jeans remain supple, and with the right pair of boots can still go to the ball. I like that." - from Arendt's Artist Statement


Sonya Clark works in fabric, fibers, and hair to create conceptual pieces. She targets themes of race, history, beauty, and how culture affects design. She chairs the Department of Craft/Material Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, one of the leading programs in the field.

"I was born in Washington, DC to a psychiatrist from Trinidad and a nurse from Jamaica. I gained an appreciation for craft and the value of the handmade primarily from my maternal grandmother who was a professional tailor. Many of my family members taught me the value of a well-told story and so it is that I value the stories held in objects." - from Clark's Bio



Andre Leon Gray is a self-taught artist born and raised in Raleigh, NC. Gray creates what he calls "eye gumbo": assemblages, installations, and two-dimensional images that comment primarily on African-Americans' long quest for empowerment.

"My work reflects my concern for humanity’s progression by mining an untapped wealth of history and memory to reveal light and dark moments of the human condition, in order to question and examine its impact on the present power structure and social hierarchies.

"Eye gumbo is a visual meal for the mind, thickened with a roux of black culture, marinated in social commentary and seasoned with consciousness." - from Gray's Artist Statement


Jackson Martin, born and raised in Tennessee, now works and teaches in Asheville, NC. His steam-bent hardwood sculptures play with the concept of function and environment, and their surreal effects cause us to reconsider wood in its natural state and and as a material. The site-specific Seep (above) opens at the Visual Art Exchange in Raleigh, NC now through August 1st.

"I was born and raised on The Farm, a hippie commune in rural Tennessee. At age 8, I moved with my family to Nashville, TN and have lived in an urban setting ever since. It is this juxtaposition that I owe my propensity to create artwork that harmonizes both the natural and cultural worlds. Over the years my artistic practice has evolved into an interdisciplinary approach to sculpture, installation and photography.

"I am attracted to a wide variety of materials and processes ranging from sewing nontraditional fabrics like burlap and poly-tarp to steam-bending hardwoods like oak and walnut to planting large maple trees in dumpsters. Above all, my creations are intended as portraits of human communication and interaction where the viewer is transformed from passive observer into subtle participant, becoming aware of both their physical and conceptual involvement in the work." - from Martin's Artist Statement


Jason Mitcham's unique work takes on the temporary life of generic buildings and other elements that serve filler or architectural white noise in suburban sprawl. He takes a variety of approaches, like his series, where he paints a mirror image of a photograph of a desolate, human-less scene. His stop-motion animation Ruin Rising was created by making tiny changes to a single painting over time, a meticulous dramatization of the how impermanent here can be.

"When a painting becomes a field of narration, the artist’s mindset about constructing the image changes.  No longer are marks made with the ultimate, final state of the image taking precedence.  Rather, every mark creates the animation, so only the next movement matters.  No ideal form is thought of.  Rather than transcendency, contingency is paramount.  A mark’s purpose is to bridge the one before it and the one that will follow it.  More than likely it will be overlaid later on, by other marks needed to tell another part of the story.  The painting must be allowed to destroy itself in order to become itself.  This correlates to the concepts within the work, and the video excavates the painting, allowing its history and narrative to be revealed.  As the animations develop, the paintings themselves become topographic 'terrains' of built up layers, correlating to the sites they depict." - from Mitcham's Artist Statement


Damian Stamer paints large scale landscapes inspired by rural areas near Durham and Chapel Hill, NC. While barns, fields, and abandoned shack interiors are common icons in regionalist art, Stamer's constant experimentation with painting techniques and the interaction between structures and natural space produce works that need to be read instead of skimmed. This is Southern landscape painting in a different dimension where abstract figures can be placed so so deftly that they seem a physical part of the scene and not a fantastical layer on top of it.

Stamer is also featured in this summer's issue of New American Paintings.


Stacy Lynn Waddell also hails from North Carolina, and currently works out of a studio in Durham. Her work has a storybook aesthetic but the elements of history that often appear in her work are anything but simplified. Waddell's ever-present sepia palette comes layers of gold leaf or from burning, singeing, or branding the paper. Portraits, Caribbean landscapes, or riverboat smoke can all be formed by repetitive marks of her signature script "B" branding iron. She contrasts these elements with watercolors and collage. 

"Making art is work. I don't like to use the term 'practice' to describe what I do. I'm a farm kid. You got up and you worked," Waddell said in a recent article in Indyweek.

Visit the Gibbes Museum website.